ShareThis Page
Penn State

Who is Penn State's best-ever WR? No. 1 was almost unanimous

| Friday, July 13, 2018, 9:57 a.m.
19 Nov 1994:  Wide receiver Bobby Engram of the Penn State Nittany Lions makes a turn up field to avoid pursuing defenders following a catch made during the Nittany Lions 45-27 victory over the Northwestern Wildcats at Beaver Stadium in Happy Valley, Penn
Getty Images
19 Nov 1994: Wide receiver Bobby Engram of the Penn State Nittany Lions makes a turn up field to avoid pursuing defenders following a catch made during the Nittany Lions 45-27 victory over the Northwestern Wildcats at Beaver Stadium in Happy Valley, Penn

We have made it to Day 4 of our summer series covering Penn State’s 130-year history.

Running backs were ranked first, followed by defensive tackles then defensive backs. Now, it’s time to figure out the top wide receivers in Nittany Lion lore.

As a reminder, we organized a group of 12 experts — six former players, six media members — to vote on the top-10 all-time players at each position. Each day we’ll release a new position, and if you think we missed something, you can vote in our fan poll, which will be released on July 22.

Here are Penn State’s top-10 wideouts based on the opinion of our 12-person panel.

10. Derrick Williams, 2005-2008

Best ranking / worst: No. 6 / unranked

Career stats: 161 receptions, 1,743 yards, 9 TDs; 594 rushing yards, 8 TDs; 1,095 return yards, 2 TDs

Every time Williams touched the football, something stunning was possible. Strictly as a receiver, Williams was just fine. In four years at Penn State, the most receiving yards he had in a season was 529; nothing special there. But on 278 touches from scrimmage, Williams averaged 8.4 yards per attempt. He was the first player under Joe Paterno to score a touchdown on a catch, kick and run in the same game, and in 2008, he was a second-team All-American because of his ability to break games open. He was a highlight-reel play waiting to happen.

9. DaeSean Hamilton, 2014-2017

Best ranking / worst: No. 2 / unranked

Career stats: 214 receptions, 2,842 yards, 18 TDs

Hamilton led the Big Ten in receptions (82) as a freshman, his production plummeted as a sophomore, the early part of 2016 was dampened by a dropped touchdown at Pitt, and the wideout gained redemption with an eight-catch showcase in the Big Ten Championship. Oh, and he left Penn State as the program’s most prolific pass-catcher, breaking Deon Butler’s receptions record by 34 snares.

Hamilton was a factor from his first game (11 catches, 165 yards in a Croke Park Classic win) to his last (110 yards, two touchdowns in a Fiesta Bowl victory). He is in the record books and left an indelible mark on Penn State’s wideout room. “He really set an example for guys that if you keep working,” quarterback Trace McSorley said, “over time, you’ll see those rewards.”

8. Bryant Johnson, 1999-2002

Best ranking / worst: No. 3 / unranked

Career stats: 110 receptions, 2,008 yards, 10 TDs

In 2001 and 2002 combined, Johnson accounted for 1,783 of the Nittany Lions’ 5,023 receiving yards — a staggering 35.5 percent clip. The 6-foot-3 wideout’s partnership with quarterback Zack Mills kept Penn State’s offense from treading water in 2001 and helped give running back Larry Johnson some breathing room in 2002. Johnson’s production was also appreciated in the NFL. He was drafted No. 17 overall in the 2003 draft and carved out a nine-year career in the league.

7. Joe Jurevicius, 1994-1997

Best ranking / worst: No. 2 / unranked

Career stats: 94 receptions, 1,894 yards, 15 TDs

Like Johnson, Jurevicius was only a two-year starter in Happy Valley and parlayed the opportunity into a fine NFL career. He won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and tallied 4,119 yards and 71 touchdowns over nine years in the league. While Jurevicius is the only receiver on this list to not reach 100 career catches with Penn State, he was effective with the Nittany Lions. He is the all-time leader with 20.1 yards per catch among Penn State receivers with at least 90 career receptions.

6. Chris Godwin, 2014-2016

Best ranking / worst: No. 3 / unranked

Career stats: 154 receptions, 2,421 yards, 18 TDs

Godwin’s nine catches, 187 yards and two touchdowns in the Rose Bowl highlighted his talent: He was a prototypical deep threat with the best hands to ever come out of Delaware. But Godwin’s production in “The Granddaddy of Them All” wasn’t a flash in the pan; the 6-foot-1 pass-catcher bodied defensive backs for two years at Penn State. Godwin’s 1,101 receiving yards in 2015 is the second-most by a Nittany Lion in a single season, and his 11 touchdowns a year later is tied for second-most in a campaign. When he was drafted by Tampa Bay in 2016, NFL Network analyst Charles Davis equated Godwin’s game to “basketball on grass.” Makes sense.

5. Deon Butler, 2005-2008

Best ranking / worst: No. 3 / unranked

Career stats: 179 receptions, 2,771 yards, 22 TDs

From 2005 to 2008, the Nittany Lions won 40 games and averaged 31.5 points per game with three different quarterbacks under center. The one constant? The wideout trio of Williams, Jordan Norwood and Deon Butler. And Butler was the top producer of the group.

The Virginia native who originally came to Penn State as a walk-on defensive back led the Nittany Lions in receiving all four years he started. Until Hamilton came along, Butler was the most prolific pass-catcher in Penn State history. Still, he sits second all-time in receptions (179) and third in touchdown catches (22) with a single-game record for receiving yards (216 against Northwestern in 2006).

4. Kenny Jackson, 1980-1983

Best ranking / worst: No. 2 / No. 10

Career stats: 109 receptions, 2,009 yards, 25 TDs

The difference in votes between Jackson and those ranked Nos. 5 through 10 wasn’t really close. In 1981, Jackson’s two touchdown catches against No. 1 Pitt helped Penn State pull off its greatest upset of all-time. In 1982, Jackson became Penn State’s first All-American wideout; the New Jersey native was named first-team after helping the Nittany Lions to their first-ever national championship. And he was named second-team All-American in 1983 before being drafted No. 4 overall by the Philadelphia Eagles in the ‘84 draft — still the highest a Penn State wideout has ever been selected. Joe Paterno said after a 54-0 win over NC State in 1982 that Jackson was “the most dangerous (receiver) we’ve ever had” — and it’s easy to see why.

3. O.J. McDuffie, 1989, 1991-1992 (1 first-place vote)

Best ranking / worst: No. 1 / No. 9

Career stats: 125 receptions, 1,988 yards, 16 touchdowns; 1,547 return yards, 3 TDs

McDuffie earned his first-place vote. The 1992 consensus first-team All-American broke or tied 15 Penn State receiving, return or all-purpose yardage records before graduating. His career 125 receptions and all-purpose yards (1,831) in 1992 were program marks at the time. To this day, the only players with more all-purpose yards in a season were Saquon Barkley and Larry Johnson. The offensive MVP of Penn State’s 1992 Fiesta Bowl win, McDuffie was drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the first round and became a franchise legend. The Ohio native — who ranks fourth in receptions and fifth in receiving yards in Dolphins history — was inducted into the organization’s Walk of Fame in 2013.

2. Allen Robinson, 2011-2013 (1 first-place vote)

Best ranking / worst: No. 1 / No. 9

Career stats: 177 receptions, 2,479 yards, 17 TDs

Robinson’s leaping grab against Michigan toward the end of regulation in 2013 — the most iconic play of the post-Paterno era, sans Barkley’s Rose Bowl run — highlighted a ground-shaking, four-overtime night at Beaver Stadium. But Robinson’s career was more than just one play.

In 2012 and 2013, when a scholarship-stricken Penn State squad was buoyed by Bill O’Brien’s pro-style offense, Robinson was the featured man. When in doubt, throw to A-Rob. His program-record 97 receptions and 1,432 yards in 2013 may never be broken. The consensus first-team All-American was a complete pass-catcher — a jump-ball machine who was smooth in his routes and possessed the ability to take a screen pass and go the distance.

That skill set translated to the NFL, too. As a second-year player with the Jaguars in 2015, Robinson was the NFL’s receiving touchdowns co-leader and made the Pro Bowl. Not bad for a kid whose only offers out of high school came from Penn State, Toledo, Buffalo and Minnesota.

1. Bobby Engram, 1991, 1993-1995 (10 first-place votes)

Best ranking / worst: No. 1 / No. 3

Career stats: 167 receptions, 3,026 yards, 31 touchdowns

The voting here wasn’t really close. Engram, who made the 2019 College Football Hall of Fame ballot, is the greatest wide receiver to ever play at Penn State.

The three-time All-American is Penn State’s leader in receiving yards and touchdown catches; he has more scoring snares than Allen Robinson and Bryant Johnson combined. Engram is the program’s lone Biletnikoff Award winner, given to the country’s best wide receiver. Engram earned that honor in 1994, when he accounted for 34.7 percent of the receiving yards on the nation’s top offense. The undefeated ‘94 squad was a juggernaut, with Engram, Kerry Collins and Ki-Jana Carter forming arguably the best offensive trio the Big Ten has ever seen.

Engram once said, “If you want to call yourself one of the best, you have to be ready to make plays in the clutch.” For three years in Happy Valley, that’s what Engram did.

Top WR honorable mention: Chafie Fields, 1996-1999; Jack Curry, 1965-1967, Jimmy Cefalo, 1974-1977; Freddie Scott, 1993-1995

Voters in our panel: (Players) Keith Conlin, 1992-1995; Bill Contz, 1980-1982; Stephon Morris, 2009-2012; Joe Nastasi, 1995-1998; A.Q. Shipley, 2005-2008; Adam Taliaferro, 2000; (Media) Nate Bauer, Blue White Illustrated; Matt Brown, The Athletic; Cory Giger, The Altoona Mirror; John McGonigal, Centre Daily Times; Josh Moyer, Centre Daily Times; Mark Wogenrich, Allentown Morning Call

How the voting was done: Each voter was given an online survey, with 20-50 players at each position, to rank 1-10. If a player was not listed, voters were given the option for a write-in. First-place votes gave players 10 points, second-place votes gave them 9, etc. We then added all the point totals together to find our top 10; honorable mentions have received at least 10 total points.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me